The first time I made this dish wasn’t actually at home. I was on vacation in the UK, and staying by a friend for a few days in Birmingham, England. I had been going out for most of my meals, and I thought it would be a nice change to not only have something homemade, but also cook a meal that my friend could have as leftovers for a few days after I left. I didn’t want to spend a lot of money, since I was a traveler on a budget, and the chicken thighs at Tesco looked really good that day. if you want something that might be fancier than chicken, if you’re entertaining with this dish, then some meatballs would be a nice substitute. After forming the meatballs, I would brown them for a couple of minutes on each side in a pan, and then let them finish cooking in the sauce.
Pasta is a great way to spread a dish out over a few meals, and it’s also an easy way to stretch a protein into several portions. This dish is creamy, comforting, and easy to make—it will stick to your ribs and definitely make you want another plate, so make sure to make the whole recipe, even if you live on your own—the leftovers are amazing. This dish only gets better the next day!
1 package of boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1 cup of pancetta cut into cubes—if you don’t have pancetta, then salt pork would be a good substitute though it has less meat so you’ll have to use slightly more of the block. Bacon is ok too, just make sure it’s not flavored too heavily, and that it’s thick enough to cut into lardon-sized pieces
1 28oz can of crushed tomatoes—I prefer San Marzano tomatoes since they’re sweeter, but any brand should be fine. A fun variation of this recipe is to use fire roasted diced tomatoes along with a few sun-dried tomatoes then pulse them in the blender until a sauce forms, but not completely smooth
Granulated garlic or garlic powder
3-4 cloves of garlic
1 large Spanish onion (or 2 medium)—any onion is fine really, except for red, which I feel has a little too much bite for this recipe
1 package of Baby Bella or Cremini mushrooms, halved—white button mushrooms are also fine, but cremini have a little more flavor. I think large Portobello mushrooms are too bold for a dish like this. If you were to use them, then I may suggest using a heavier protein like turkey cutlets
¼ cup of white wine—use something you would drink. If it doesn’t taste good straight up, it won’t taste good concentrated in your dish!
1 cup of heavy cream
1-2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes—adjust to your own taste. I like spicy, but feel free to omit the pepper flakes if you prefer a milder sauce
1½ teaspoons of dried oregano
1 tablespoon of fresh basil, roughly chopped
1 box of fusilli or rotelle—I like to use a pasta shape that will hold a lot of the sauce and is bite-sized
Parmesan cheese (garnish)
- Cut all of the chicken thighs in half
- Season the chicken liberally with salt, pepper and granulated garlic.
- Add enough oil to coat the bottom of a large, deep skillet, and turn the burner to medium heat.
- After a couple of minutes, add the chicken to the pan. Try to make sure that the chicken is in a single layer, and that they all get some pan space. This way they cook in about the same time
- Cook the chicken for a few minutes, flipping occasionally, until it’s browned, but not cooked through. Don’t worry; it will finish cooking in the sauce later.
- Remove the chicken from the pan and set aside in a bowl or a plate for later
- In the same pan, add the pancetta and cook—stirring occasionally so that the pieces don’t stick to the bottom of the pan
- When all of the pancetta has browned and has a crispy exterior, remove to the same bowl as the chicken. Resist the urge to drain them or place on a paper towel—trust me, you’ll want this fattiness later!
- Add garlic and sauté for 30-45 seconds on medium to medium-high heat until it starts to brown, but pay attention. Burned garlic can ruin a dish!
- Add the onions and sauté for about 5 minutes
- Once the onions start to brown and caramelize a bit, add the mushrooms—again, you should make sure the onions and mushrooms are spread around the pan, and stir occasionally, so that they all get some “sizzle”
- Add the dried oregano and crushed red pepper flakes, as well as well as ½ teaspoon of salt and a teaspoon of black pepper—hold off on adding any extra salt since the pancetta will lend some saltiness to the sauce. You can always add more later!
- When the mushrooms are cooked tender and the onions have continues to caramelize, deglaze the pan with the white wine. Make sure to scrape up all the bits from the bottom of the pan. That’s pure flavor!
- Let the alcohol cook off for a couple of minutes and then add the tomatoes to the pan
- After 2 minutes, add the chicken and pancetta back to the pan along with the basil
- Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 12-15 minutes, and stir it after about halfway to make sure it doesn’t stick to the pan and move everything around
- About halfway through the previous step, put your pasta water on to boil.
- Cook the pasta according to package directions—the only unique thing I do in this dish is add a clove of garlic, roughly chopped, to the pasta water in order to give the noodles a subtle garlic flavor, and make sure to add a nice amount of salt since it will flavor the noodles
- When you drop the pasta into the pot, add about 1 cup of heavy cream to the sauce (or 3 turns around the pan). Stir to incorporate well into the sauce
- Drain the pasta when it’s al dente, even if you like it softer since it will continue to cook in the sauce for a couple of minutes.
- Add the pasta to the sauce pan, and mix the pasta, sauce, chicken, pancetta, onions and mushrooms all together. You want the noodles to be completely covered in sauce, but not swimming in it. Simmer together for another couple of minutes.
- Add a few big spoonfuls of the dish on a big plate or shallow bowl, and garnish with some Parmesan cheese, freshly cracked black pepper, and maybe a sprig of fresh basil